Passages: Is. 49:13-23; Gal. 6:14-18; John 3:13-21
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԽԹ 13-23; Գաղ. Զ 15-18; Յով. Գ 13-21
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
A Christian missionary one day visited China where he was teaching and preaching the Word of God. Christianity is persecuted in China and so his work was illegal. Regardless, almost 20-30 student had gathered privately to learn. The preacher asked a question, “what will happen if the government catches us?” The students answered, you’ll get deported, and we’ll go to prison. And so as the lesson began, the missionary and his group handed out Bibles but they were shy by a few and so some people had to share. The preacher said, let us turn to Galatians 6. And as the students opened their Bibles to the page, he noticed one of the women giving her Bible to someone who didn’t have one. After the lesson ended, he asked the woman, why didn’t you read along. She said, I didn’t need to. While I was in prison, I memorized the entire book. Surprised the preacher asked, how? Aren’t Bible’s illegal to have in prison? Yes, she answered, that is why we bring them in on small papers and memorize them quickly. Amazed at the devotion the preacher was lost for words. At the end of the 3 days lesson, as the missionaries were preparing to go home, they asked the students what would you like us to pray for as we go back to America? The students answered, “that we can be like you.” The preacher stopped for a moment and said, no! You see in the United States we have are free to pray and worship, learn and grow but we don’t. The students rode a cramped train 13 hours, secretly to come and pray; in the US, if we have to drive more than 30 minutes we won’t go. You sat on a wooden floor for three days, in the US if service is longer than 40 minutes, we won’t go or complain the entire time. Not only did you sit here for 3 days on the floor, you did so with no A/C, very little food, and with the risk of going to prison; in the US, if the pews are soft, the a/c or heater is not working, the coffee made and table set up for fellowship, we won’t go. In the US, there are an average of 2 Bibles per family, which we barely read; yet, you have almost no Bibles and yet, you memorize, you internalize the Word of God from pieces of paper. Why would you ever want to be like us?
My dear brothers and sisters, it is true that we here in the United States enjoy the liberties of freedom. We are free to worship, free to learn, free to profit and grow. Yet, in that freedom we have somehow grown cold and distant from the value that is our Christian faith. We have begun to view our faith in God as Christian’s merely as just another personal belief, just another viewpoint or even just another inconvenience. Even for us who come to Church, sometimes we merely go through actions without every allowing God to truly enter into our hearts. Or especially as Armenian Christian’s we come to Church on Sunday, or for weddings, baptisms and funerals because it’s the cultural thing to do. However, to be a Christian, to be a follower of Christ is countercultural. Our world today tells us to choose convenience, comfort, the lazy boy or memory foam; to numb ourselves through medication, alcohol, technology or countless other means. Being comfortable, enjoying a memory foam pillow or taking medication, having a drink or using technology are not evil or sinful. Yet, when they replace the message of the Gospel they become a god for us.
What does it mean? It means making all other things a priority above God. Giving more importance to football states and newspaper headlines than the Word of God. We can talk about sports for hours, politics for days and so much more. Of course, these are not bad things I love football, politics and history yet, what does the Gospel teach us? What is the basic belief of our faith? Have we ever thought about this? If we entered the elevator and someone asked us what we believe, what would our elevator, quick answer be to what it is that we believe about our Armenian Christian faith, how would we answer? This is very important to know my dears because when we are unprepared, when we have become numb to our faith, or don’t know we are vulnerable, to the attacks of the enemy, of the demon’s and of Satan. Not through scary images of pitched fork goblins but of the comfort and laziness of life. When we deny God not by saying we don’t believe but by replacing Him, replacing the Gospel with what makes us comfortable.
St. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the Cross, the Holy Gospel is foolishness, it doesn’t make sense, it is inconvenient and stupid and it clashes with what the world tells us today. Yet, if we are truly Christian’s, true believers of God, who came down from Heaven in the Person of Christ Jesus, then the Cross is the thing we choose to follow. Not when it is convenient, not when it’s sunny, or the service is livestreamed, not when it’s Christmas or Easter, but always. Because it is in through the Cross upon which Christ spilled his blood for us, that we are freed from sin.The Cross which was a tool of death, of humiliation, of suffering for us now as children of God is the symbol of victory. It is the power of God that we must seek out by coming to Church not just physically but with our hearts and minds hungry to learn; opening up our scriptures and reading the Gospel, the Word of God daily; by praying and coming to confession, receiving Holy Communion and making our faith the foundation of our life. So that when we suffer, when we fail, when we face persecution and are on the Cross, even if we have no Bible available to us, even if the Church is not physically near, or the priest is not available, we will not lose faith, we will know the power of God.
Yes, we are blessed to live in a country where we are free to worship, to pray, to grow. Where we are not actively persecuted, jailed or even killed for our faith. Let us pray that in that freedom we freely choose to learn and know God, to love God as He loves us. To turn to God for all, not just for when we need. Let us pray that when we Cross ourselves, wear a cross around our neck, tattoo the cross on our arms, place a cross in our home, or see one on a Church, that those crosses become a reminder of God’s love and power, victory over all pain and suffering. Because “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Do we know that love my dears, do we freely choose that love, do we know what that love means? May the Holy Cross of Christ reveal to us His love today and everyday, glory to God, Amen!